US & Canada

Columbo star Peter Falk dies aged 83

Peter Falk as Columbo, file pic from MCA TV
Peter Falk won four Emmys for his cigar-chomping role as scruffy-haired, mac-wearing Columbo

Peter Falk, the American actor most famous for his role as scruffy TV detective Columbo, has died aged 83.

The actor died peacefully at home in Beverly Hills on Thursday night, his family said in a statement.

He had been suffering from dementia for a number of years.

Peter Falk won four Emmys for his cigar-chomping role as the deceptively bumbling Columbo, and was nominated for Oscars in 1960 and 1961 for Murder Inc and Pocketful of Miracles.

In the 1987 cult classic The Princess Bride, he played a kindly old man regaling his sick grandson with a fairytale combination of swordplay, giants, a beautiful princess and fearsome rodents of unusual size.

But for most fans, even his best-supporting actor nominations were eclipsed by his incarnation as the sleuth in the shabby mac with no known first name and the killer catch-phrase: "One more thing..."

'Like a flood victim'

Columbo first appeared on American TV screens in 1968, and NBC commissioned a series in which the detective appeared every third week from 1971 until it was cancelled in 1977.

The part of its policeman hero had originally been written for Bing Crosby, but Falk made the part his own and continued to make special episodes well into his 70s.

He reportedly turned down an offer to convert it into a weekly series, citing the heavy workload.

The actor bought Columbo's trademark raincoat himself, only for it to be replaced after it became too tattered through its near constant use in the series.

He told one interviewer his shabby detective looked "like a flood victim".

"You feel sorry for him. He appears to be seeing nothing, but he's seeing everything. Underneath his dishevelment, a good mind is at work."

Peter Michael Falk was born in 1927 in New York City, where his parents ran a clothes shop.

He had an eye removed at the age of three due to cancer. He said he learned to live with the ailment after it became "the joke of the neighbourhood".

"If the umpire ruled me out on a bad call, I'd take the fake eye out and hand it to him," Falk told the Associated Press in a 1963 interview.

As an aspiring actor, he was reportedly warned by one agent the false eye would preclude him from working in television. In fact, it became another endearing trait of his most famous character.

Peter Falk had been under 24-hour care for several years.

The actor is survived by his wife of three decades, Shera, and daughters from a previous marriage Catherine and Jackie.

In 2009, Catherine Falk applied to be put in charge of his estate, saying he was suffering from Alzheimer's and that she had been blocked from seeing him for six months.

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